No doubt there is the need to exercise all possible restraints in the management of information in the broadcast environment.
The radio and television environment in Nigeria which has suddenly become the rallying point for citizens to quickly get information and discuss governance should be a source of concern to any government battling to keep a cohesive, United and secured fragile country like Nigeria.
What manner of necessary media restrictions can be acceptable in a democratic setting?
Should there be a line drawn to make sure that the proposed controls being hatched will not limit the ability of the press to hold the government accountable as clearly mandated by the constitution.
Radio and Television, including their online presence have escalated the speed of awareness and a good society will seize the momentum and employ the broadcast speed advantages to increase the nation’s human capital development, political participation, crime bursting, commerce and international influence.
But unfortunately, the speed of the broadcast media can also be a source of concern to authorities if the content is perceived to be negative. They can indeed be negative in some sense.
The quick takeaways from the frenzy broadcast opportunities should ordinarily be tied to national goals and the collective wealth of the people.
The mobilization to achieving the maximum gains under the current broadcast blitz must be led by educated, committed and intelligent leaders, leaders who engage the followers in regular national and citizens introspection and with a deep focus on the overall national goals.
These goals can be achieved by the regulator and operators who define their mission and are guided strictly by nationalistic ethos.
Before the emergence of degree 38 of 1992 which opened the doors for private participation in the running of electronic media in Nigeria, the society was locked in and served the doses of official information pleasant to those in government.
Over the years, and like a ferocious volcanic eruptions, the Nigerian media space has witnessed a monumental growth in the number, from a few state controlled radio and television stations to the current state of specialized broadcast houses, in their hundreds.
The attendant challenge has become the management of political and social content.
The decades of ethnic, religious and regional tensions have not made this any easier task for government and operators.
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is challenged to regulate the standard in ways that the airwaves remain healthy for the social, political and cultural development of the nation.
In order to accomplish its goals the NBC works with a set of codes for the operators to mirror themselves in line with the need not to aggravate the fragile unity and cohesiveness of Nigeria.
The NBC Code is a stakeholders document, it evolves and continues to be updated to suit current realities in broadcasting.
The code, though flowing from the strength of the enabling legal frameworks of the NBC must also fall in line with the constitutional guarantees of media and citizens freedoms.
The point of the delicate balance in pushing for a healthy broadcast environment and the constitutional rights of the media lies the disposition and maturity of government, the media operators and the regulator.
The content of the code must therefore be in the pursuit of national interest.
So in whose interest are the proposed addition to the codes being developed. The nation or the government?
The Federal Government through the Minister for Information Lai Mohammed says the proposed regulation will target hate speech, increasing
hate speech fine to N5m from N500,000, causing fears that the Buhari Government wants to clam down on critical media.
The envisaged breaches relates to the not-well-defined term, hate speech, inciting comments and indecency.
The new regulation proposes that a “willful repeat” of infractions on three occasions after an initial levy would attract suspension of broadcast license.
President Muhammadu Buhari has accordingly approved an upgrade of breach of divisive political remarks to ‘’Class A’’ offence in the Broadcasting Code.
The critical media and opposition believe this the heart of the matter.
While the freedoms under democratic practices, including press freedoms should not be subjected to abuse by practitioners, the relevant laws and regulations should not be structured to remove such freedoms.
Being a stakeholders’ document, the NBC code should reflect the concerns and consensus of practitioners and must be made to serve the larger interests of Nigeria.
The proposed sanctions, particularly the increase of the fine for hate speech by nearly 1000%, the lack of consensus on the definition of hate speech in the Nigerian context and the new vigors given to the NBC to shut down alleged defaulters should be thoroughly discussed in the public arena and agreed upon before implementation.
• Agbonsuremi, a journalist is the Executive Director of the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development, PRIMORG.